Preview: Australia v Ireland
THE DECIDER: The Six Nations champions Ireland will seek to secure a rare Series win when they face Australia in Saturday’s June Test Series decider.
The Six Nations champions and world rugby’s second-ranked team haven’t won a series in Australia since they swept a two-Test tour in 1979, but get their chance against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
But as much an achievement as that would be, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt is also weighing up Ireland’s genuine claims of winning the World Cup in 15 months’ time.
Schmidt’s Irish team shape as favourites for the decider after they won last week in Melbourne, levelling the series at 1-1 and ending their 39-year away win drought against Australia.
The Irish came close to beating another southern hemisphere power, South Africa, in a three-Test series two years ago only to go down 2-1, so another opportunity to take a prized scalp is enticing.
Yet despite this Schmidt has announced five team changes, among them number eight Jack Conan, who gets his first start of the series this weekend.
“You try to get it as perfect as you can, balancing that opportunity (for players) with that massive responsibility to try and win a series,” Schmidt told reporters on Friday.
“For Jack, it’s probably as exciting as it is a little bit threatening.”
Schmidt has chosen two experienced flanks alongside Conan in skipper Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander for the battle of the breakdowns with Australia’s crack pair, Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
“I’m hopeful that will offer some good confidence and support to Jack and he looks to really stamp an impression on the game,” Schmidt said.
Although the Wallabies are two slots below Ireland at four in the world rankings, Schmidt rates them highly.
“Personally, I think the Wallabies have as good an attack as any team in the world, and I think defensively they have proved they could be as good as anyone in the world,” Schmidt said.
He also believes the injection of Lukhan Tui into the Wallabies back-row presents a fresh challenge for the Irish pack.
The hulking Tui’s inclusion at blindside flanker will add some much-needed strength, but Schmidt highlighted Tui’s defence — after a thumping hit on star prop Tadgh Furlong in the second half last week — as an asset which Ireland must nullify.
“I thought Tui did well when he came on [last week],” Schmidt said.
“He does give them a bit more in the lineout whether he comes on loose or whether he plays at lock.
“There was one time where Tadgh Furlong carried and I thought Tui hit him very hard.”
Looking to his own future as Ireland coach, Schmidt said he is likely to wait until the end of this year before deciding whether to stay in the job beyond the 2019 World Cup.
“By the end of this year I would say there will be some fair direction there because for the entire following year I’m still in the seat, unless I get sacked,” Schmidt said.
“You can be flavour of the month one week, and things can turn around very quickly, so I take nothing for granted,”
Players to watch:
For Australia: He may not be Will Genia, but scrumhalf Nick Phipps, who brings in loads of Test match experience, will be keen to prove himself against one of the best scrumhalves Connor Murray. Debutant flank Lukhan Tui’s physicality will be a vital component when it comes to the breakdown. While the likes of Kurtlye Beale, Bernard Foley and Israel Folau tend to produced stellar performances when it comes to do-or-die encounters.
For Ireland: Captain Peter O’Mahony and Christiaan Stander have been instrumental in last week’s win. This week the duo’s dynamic strength will be crucial at the rucks. Flyhalf Johnny Sexton has proven that his presence makes a huge difference between defeat and victory. The flyhalf’s tactical kicking will again try to place huge a pressure on the Australia onside their own 22. Wing Jacob Stockdale can cause havoc if you give him enough space outwide.
Head to head: Ireland’s Jack Conan, captain Peter O’Mahony and Christiaan Stander will again be out to nullify Australia’s David Pocock, captain Michael Hooper and Lukhan Tui at the breakdowns. In the midfield, the return of powerful runner Bundee Aki poses a fresh challenge for Kurtley Beale.
2018: Ireland won 26-21, Melbourne
2018: Australia won 18-9, Brisbane
2016: Ireland won 27-24, Dublin
2014: Ireland won 26-23, Dublin
2013: Australia won 32-15, Dublin
2011: Ireland won 15-6, Auckland (RWC)
2010: Australia won 22-15, Brisbane
2009: The sides drew 20-20, Dublin
2008: Australia won 18-12, Melbourne
2006: Ireland won 21-6, Dublin
2006: Australia won 37-15, Perth
2005: Australia won 30-14, Dublin
Prediction: Similar to last week, there is no outright favourite. However, fresh from a win Ireland head into the test with a slight advantage, thus there is a huge chance that the Grand Slam Champions will win the Series by five points!
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Reece Hodge.
Ireland: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 6 Christiaan Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Cian Healy, 18 John Ryan, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jordi Murphy, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Jordan Larmour.
Date: Saturday, June 23
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.05 (11.05 UK time, 10.05 GMT)
Expected weather: It is partly cloudy with a high of around 17°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa),
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
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